GTA residents scramble to find COVID-19 vaccines at pop-up clinics
Use of social media to spread vaccine information an equity issue, physican says
A unique sort of scavenger hunt cropped up across the Greater Toronto Area this weekend: the search for COVID-19 vaccines.
Lineups grew outside various pop-up clinics on Saturday and Sunday as GTA residents heard word on social media or through word-of-mouth of available vaccines — and then scrambled to get their first jabs.
The province quietly announced Friday that 140 pharmacies would offer COVID-19 vaccines over the weekend to all adults in some Ontario hot spots, a shift made to align with provincial efforts to protect the most vulnerable amid a third wave of infections.
Ontario said people wouldn't be asked to provide proof of their residence in a hot spot, but pharmacists would need to verify recipients were at least 18 years old.
Though there is a list online of pharmacies administering shots, non-profit organizations like Vaccine Hunters Canada compiled information on where pop-up clinics were located and shared it online.
[ON] Malton 18+<br>Malton Walmart: 7333 Goreway Dr<br>18+ any postal code <br>May 10 - 50 appointments available<a href="https://t.co/rLR3xX80Tc">https://t.co/rLR3xX80Tc</a><br>GOOOOOO <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVID19</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19Vaccine?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVID19Vaccine</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19ON?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVID19ON</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/vhcON?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#vhcON</a> <a href="https://t.co/hmeE2FOqJH">pic.twitter.com/hmeE2FOqJH</a>—@VaxHuntersCan
It's because of volunteers like those that people stay informed, said Dr. Andrew Boozary, a Toronto physician and executive director of the social medicine program at the United Health Network.
But he says the use of social media as a key communicator of important vaccine information poses an equality issue.
"We know that we need a more comprehensive system approach because we're losing a lot of people who aren't on social media, who obviously have other barriers in their lives about how to get out to the vaccine," said Boozary.
Moving forward, he said it's going to be crucial to ensure the message gets out to people who need vaccines the most, specifically residents in high-risk neighbourhoods.
What the province needs, he added, is a doubling down on community organizations to provide support to those in need of a vaccine.
"That is one of the challenges we're still facing from an equity perspective," Boozary said.
"[We need to ensure] that there are a whole range of mediums that the message is getting out and that we're helping people who need the vaccine."
Social media users poke fun at the scramble
Several TikTok users poked fun at scenes of people flocking to various pop-up clinics.
Others spoke to Canada's vaccination rollout as a whole.
A DJ even set up at a small booth at a pop-up clinic in North York in hopes of entertaining those enduring long lines.
Despite the scramble, Boozary said it's a good thing that people are showing urgency when it comes to getting vaccinated.
"It's great to see people going out to get the vaccine ... and people willing to drive all over the city to do what they can to protect themselves and their loved ones," he said.
'Please get vaccinated'
That message is shared by many leaders across the country.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu spoke with Rosemary Barton, CBC's chief political correspondent, on Sunday, urging all Canadians to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible — and able — to do so.
"We keep saying, when it's your turn, please get vaccinated," she said.
Hajdu added that there's "clearly no silver bullet in the pandemic," and that it's in "all of our hands" to stop a potential fourth wave of the virus.
"We can see the finish line, for sure, but that doesn't mean that the hard work ends today, or ends in two months," Hajdu said.
"We'll have this powerful tool of vaccinations, but all of us have to work together."
With files from Talia Ricci